Playings; 3 (1862, 1863, Campaign, 2 Rebel wins, 1 draw) 10 hours
I only bought Bobby Lee in March and was neither thrilled nor otherwise. Sam Grant turned up for the sort of money that I can probably get back at the MBG auction so I bought it. Both games are what Vae Victis would call "ludique" rather than heavy duty historical analysis but the basic decisions are still there. Having played Bobby Lee recently and searched the net for clarifications (Columbia have a discussion page for their games) I found Sam Grant a lot easier to get into. I still missed double defence in woods but think that I caught all the other rules foibles. Generally rules are very similar to Bobby Lee except there is river movement instead of sea movement. The Union can move along major rivers and trace supply as if they were railways. Better still they do not need to be garrisoned every hex of the way like enemy rail lines; CSA held forts do block river communications though. Unfortunately all major rivers except the Mississippi cut across the USA axes of advance making an attack on Atlanta dependent on a tail of supporting units to hold the rails to the river landings. Atlanta is further from the river than Richmond is from the sea so be prepared for plenty of USA blocks on garrison duty. Crossing the rivers is no fun requiring a strategic move and forbidden across bluffs into an enemy held hex. This makes Grant look a bit of a fool at the start of the 1863 scenario as he is as far down the Mississippi on the wrong side as he can get and still stay in supply. He will have to go back up to cross and stay in supply or detach part of his army for possible defeat in detail. The CSA can cross major rivers but cannot sail along them, they will have to cross rivers if any raiding units want to hop across to the North.
I have played the 1862 and 1863 scenarios as well as the full war and found them a lot more open than the Bobby Lee games although the far East of the map is pretty much no go because of all the rivers and mountains to cross. If left open individual units can have a field day around there though. I am more convinced that the defender has the advantage due to the limit on units that can enter a battle on each turn. This is usually the CSA who is able to beat off USA troops dribbling onto the battle board. As in Bobby Lee the best units to send ahead seem to be the guns as these can pound away on the attackerís 1st battle round but all other units have to spend 1 round closing to engage. They then get fired at by the defender before they get a turn at fighting. If the defender spends his 1st turn charging onto the attackerís gun line he is going to get plastered with a 50% chance of each gun point causing a loss before his chargers get to fight. True the enemy can outrun the artillery line by withdrawing on his 1st round but if this happens the battle has been won; end of problem. I do get the feeling that all this artillery really should be trotting along in the rear of each army. A reasonable option is to force units to move into and reinforce combat by type. All cavalry must move in before any infantry and the guns are last of all. In Bobby Lee the siege guns would be the last of the last. Battles would then start with some cavalry skirmishing, build up and only see major offensive gun use in multi-day battles or in sieges.
With every strength point requiring a separate roll to hit and stacks being hidden the game adapts rather well to solitaire play. Even if I am pretty sure what is 2 opposing stacks there is every chance of the combat dice fouling up any sort of plan. In 1862 the Rebs ramped North through Kentucky and buying up all the whisky in Cincinnati. 1863 was a hard fought draw and the campaign had the Union advancing too slowly and too dependent on long supply lines. More evidence in favour of the Rebs being favourites to win. Many of the victory towns are well down the bottom of the map as far from the USA start lines as you can get. The CSA has another bonus in not needing all 3 HQ units in the later years of the war; scrubbing one allows more points to be spent on building up replacements. Still despite the effort required for the USA to win the game held enough interest to make it worth trying unlike Bobby Lee which can seem to drag on and on without getting very far.
Sam Grantís scale is not even close to that of Bobby Lee whose map would fit on the Grant job many times over if this were the case. The maps do not meet up avoiding the scales clashing and all movement between games is by rail move. There is still the option to play both games at once, taking about twice as long as either alone. The combined maps miss out most of the Eastern CSA South of Petersburg and the gulf coast making combined play a little artificial although all the major areas are in play. Not having New Orleans is a bit of a miss, the CSA gains troops but loses victory points for abandoning the coast. This mismatch of the maps and lack of the gulf are not relevant to the yearly scenarios. These are probably the best part of both games but the campaign of Sam Grant at least has a certain something.